My Zoe Fothergill Collaboration. The correspondence file continues!

Jan the 9th and high time I posted further links in my email chain with artist Zoe Fothergill. The last post was in November I see. Check there please if you’re at sea with what’s going on below. Basically we’re collaborating and working towards a performance lecture on structure and content.


Iain Morrison said:

Hi it’s me! I’ve been in writing-thinking-blogging-Zoe+Iain-land tonight. Have done lots of thinking and I’ve put one new blog up, with two more written and set to auto-publish during the week. So that means my blog should be catching up with our correspondence.

Here’s a reply to your email from the 5th November. I hope it’s interesting. I have an idea that it might be fun for us to both reply, quiz or questionnaire-style, to a series of questions about form and structure. I think, now, that we pretty-much know where we’re at with what we’re thinking of, but it might be useful to capture it for the project and could generate some interesting text. Anyway, I have some idea, but will send in a separate email. Here’s my reply to your reply to my reply from before.


I thought your paragraph on the difference between structure and form was excellent. It answered a lot of the questions I had about where you see the difference. You wrote:


‘ok so i say structure because i think it’s far more precise.

form has many more interpretations for me.

and oed agrees so it must be right – pasted below

but maybe the more openended nature of form appeals to you more

i guess for me structure feels more inside

more understanding relations within

and form is a step remove

surveying the whole

what say you?’


Having looked at the OED definitions of form and structure, I think I understand a difference that form is somehow about what can be perceived visually (possibly not that different in an artwork or a poem actually), where structure takes into account the inner organisation of an artefact. So form=externally visible and structure=external and internal organisation.

This raises the interesting possibility just now in my head, of a see-through artwork. Can you think of any?

I notice that a word that comes up in both definitions is ‘arrangement’. The definition of form in the OED’s definition list that came closest to what I think I’ve been thinking of was

‘[mass noun] style, design, and arrangement in an artistic work as distinct from its content: these videos are a triumph of form over content’

I also love the idea of a ‘mass noun’. Cool!

You wonder if it’s the open-endedness of form which attracts me. I think what I like about ‘form’ as a word to use in this discussion is that it’s often set up as, not exactly the opposite of, but certainly the counterpart to ‘content’, so it comes out of my mouth/fingers naturally. It has a valency, history of use. Maybe that makes it too cosy to use now unthinkingly. A bit hackneyed.

As I think you say, the Andrew Grassie flips apparent content into a place less-important than the structure. The content doesn’t become the meaning and the structure does. What’re we left looking at? It’s more than our own perception, isn’t it? You talked about ghosts.

You say that the structure (meaning the process here?) becomes the principal subject. I’d like to hear what you think might be secondary subjects in this Grassie work too.

I can see a dance of meaning happening in his work. You’re presented with a formal question about what’s going on, how were the images generated, is it  a photo, is the content the artist’s work, no it seems so various, oh it’s a painting, hang on, I’m in the space depicted in the painting, but where have the objects gone, oh, this painting is made from the exact same view-point you would look through if the canvas were a window. Then once you’ve worked it all out, a second stage of interpretation happens. Why these works? Why has he done this? Why these materials? Questions which don’t have such straightforward answers as the formal ones. But I’m interested in that initial period in which we’re wooed by the work, and the game, the puzzle, keeps you looking longer – it makes it something happening in time maybe?

The submitted art he lets into his process seems effectively repressed and literally flattened/walked away from. I’m intrigued. Thanks for introducing me to this artist.

I can see what you mean about it possibly losing its meaning if you move it to a different venue. That’s a thing with site specific isn’t it? Cake, eating it perhaps. Did I tell you ever that I once misheard people talking about what I thought was ‘Site-Specific: The Musical’? I eventually realised that they were talking about ‘South Pacific’! I had a massive LOL about that.

I love structure/stricture. That’s a very nice sleight of word just there that you’ve introduced me to.

I’m interested in what you say about translation. I wonder if we could play some sort of translation game as a way of interrogating the ‘thisness’ of something. I wonder how we might do it with words and then also with something visual. Any thoughts?

You do read my poems very well. I was grateful to read your reponse to ‘in relation to’ that picked up elements that had interested me around the prefixed/non-prefixed (fixed?!) vocab, and I like that it had that effect of involving you in its play as it reached its conclusion(s). I wonder if sometimes the answer to the question ‘what is it about?’ has two answers: one which centres on the content and one which centres on the form/structure? So in the case of my poem I could say it’s about the extent to which you can relate to someone and which differences are insoluble, but I could also say it’s about moving forwards through a syntax structure and then unpicking what’s been created backwards to see where you end up. Maybe? Or maybe the second bit is the answer to the question ‘how does it convey its meaning?’, but I don’t think it’s that exactly. To say the meaning is housed in the structure implies a possible separation of the two. Maybe there are just two separate processes going on in an artwork and the trick is to manage the symbiotic relationship between them with you as the magi?

Iain x


On 5 Nov 2012, at 19:06, zoe fothergill wrote:

excellent great response my dear

i ditto love the way levine talks about his work

i also find that more interesting than the work itself

and prob would have selected the same section re futility too

i totally agree that it is barely intelligible but not really in an interesting way

but also agree at times new languages evolve from this kind of mania

i find it diffcult and frustrating but still i’m pleased it exists

i geek too


i think you are right to question the quailty of the output

the relation between content and structure – meaning and form

but i guess i’m also interested in work that pushes past

to make the form the meaning or the structure the content.


i just ordered ‘a void’ – the ‘e’ less novel that focuses on the pursuit of e as the main thrust of the plot

intrigued to know whether it is unintelligible or if as you say re the 5hr opera

you got to ride with it

til it starts to infiltrate and reveal its inner logic.

in part i’m blown away by the fact it was written

for the sheer ‘what if ness’ of it

but even more so by the translation efforts

originally in french

then to english

and also spanish with no a instead

translators unsung heros

will report back.


ok so i say structure because i think it’s far more precise.

form has many more interpretations for me.

and oed agrees so it must be right – pasted below

but maybe the more openended nature of form appeals to you more

i guess for me structure feels more inside

more understanding relations within

and form is a step remove

surveying the whole

what say you?


thanks for including your poems

great examples of responses to struture/form

for me it always begs the question

when are rules freedom and when are they hinderance / stricture?

start without and impose as you go or start with and mould to fit?

i’m with you too that the second balances the relationship better

i love the interplay between prefixed and not vocab

oh so similar and yet not and yet sometimes yes

and then it building to a fuller interplay across the whole

that tantalisingly reveals itself – it’s fun it’s cheeky – i love it

while the first has a complex structure

it is almost invisible to me

so the second seems generous

with the listening/reader included

in the unravelling of the fun and games


did you see the andrew grassie show at trg

years ago now 08

one work driven by structure

that at trg was out of context

i would have loved to have seen in situ

was at mobile home in london

he hung a group show by open call

photographed it from 8 view points

then returned all the work

and made meticulous tiny paintings of the photos

then hung the photos in the 8 places

so that the exhibition space was practically empty

and yet the ghosts of the secret show

were presented in what i imagine to be

uncanny – making you double take in the space

couple images attached to aide explanation

the structure is elaborate

and maybe unnecessary

but i love its convolution

and for me it becomes the principal subject

anyways enough from me for now

soon soon



Definition of structure


1 the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex:

the two sentences have equivalent structures

the company’s weakness is the inflexibility of its management structure

[mass noun] the quality of being organized: we shall use three headings to give some structure to the discussion

2 a building or other object constructed from several parts: the station is a magnificent structure and should not be demolished


Definition of form


1. the visible shape or configuration of something: the form, colour, and texture of the tree [mass noun]: the flowers of this shrub are remarkable both in form and colour

• the body or shape of a person or animal: his eyes scanned her slender form

• [mass noun] style, design, and arrangement in an artistic work as distinct from its content: these videos are a triumph of form over content

2. a particular way in which a thing exists or appears: essays in book form energy in the form of light

• any of the ways in which a word may be spelled, pronounced, or inflected: an adjectival form

• Philosophy the essential nature of a species or thing, especially (in Plato’s thought) regarded as an abstract ideal which real things imitate or participate in.

3. a type or variety of something: sponsorship is a form of advertising

• an artistic or literary genre: a form is as good as the writer who chooses it

• Botany a taxonomic category that ranks below variety, which contains organisms differing from the typical kind in some trivial, frequently impermanent, character, e.g. a colour variant. Also called forma.

4 [mass noun] the customary or correct method or procedure: an excessive concern for legal form and precedent

• [count noun] a ritual or convention: the outward forms of religion

• [count noun] a set order of words; a formula: a form of words

5. a printed document with blank spaces for information to be inserted: an application form

6. chiefly British a class or year in a school, usually given a specifying number: the fifth form

7. [mass noun] the state of a sports player or team with regard to their current standard of play: they are one of the best teams around on current form

• details of previous performances by a racehorse or greyhound: an interested bystander studying the form

• a person’s mood and state of health: she seemed to be on good form

• British informal a criminal record: they both had form

8. British a long bench without a back.

9. Printing, chiefly USvariant spelling of forme.

10. British a hare’s lair.

11. another term for shuttering.